DPP - Debates on European Identity

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Debates on European Identity

(2013 - 2014)


Spot info on Debates on European Identity


 Concept paper EN

 Document conceptuel FR

What are the roots of European identity? What does European identity mean today and how is it related to European integration? How can the Council of Europe help foster positive European identities?

The Debates on European Identity are an initiative of Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, in response to the difficult and challenging times facing European societies today. Building on the format of the previous Democracy debates, and enlarging the thematic scope, they intend to discuss the current state of thinking and dynamics behind the concept of European Identity. They shoud serve as a catalyst of ideas and concepts for the future of Europe, thereby contributing to building constructive European identities.

Co-organised by the Council of Europe and the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), the debates on European identity feature eminent personalities from politics, civil society and academic world. Each time, speakers address a different way the complexity of issues related to European identity.

Previous Debates:

Inaugural Debate - Karsten Alnaes
Second Debate - Yurij Andrukhovych
Third Debate - Victor Erofeev
Fourth Debate - Martti Ahtisaari
Fifth Debate - David Lordkipanidze

(Read more on respective speakers below)

Sixth Debate - Daniel Cohn-Bendit
Seventh Debate - Robert Salais
Eighth Debate - Tzvetan Todorov
Ninth Debate - Ana Palacio
Tenth Debate - Adam D. Rotfeld
Tenth Debate, 19 May 2014 - Adam D. ROTFELD, former Foreign Minister of Poland  
"European Values and Search for Identities"

Video of the Conference :


Introduction speech: English

Audio recording including discussion


Biography of Adam D. Rotfeld - EN

Adam D. Rotfeld argued that history and common memory are understandable and natural requirements for search of national identities. Problems appear when history is treated selectively and national memory is decreed by politicians and the institutions they establish.

He highlighted that the difference between “historical memory” and “historical policy” is the same as between truth and half-truth, between seeking historical truth and attempts at its instrumentalization and exploitation for specific political goals by different groups, parties and state institutions.

Rotfeld devoted special attention to the process of reconciliation between the Poles and Germans and between the Poles and Russians. He underlined a different course for the dialogue and search for understanding, but pointed out that in both cases, however, a pivotal role has been played by the recognition of universal moral and ethical values and adoption of the principle that future-oriented dialogue should be based on truth about the past and adherence to certain common values.

For Rotfled the truth is not and cannot be subject to negotiations. Truth never hinders understanding or inflames mutual relations. The process of reconciliation will not be durable and effective if the full truth is not told—without reticence or deception.

In conlusion, Rotfled argued that values vital to human dignity and freedom are of key importance in the politics of democratic states. It requires that we reassess our way of thinking about foreign policy and change our approach to the formulation of goals and the definition of means which may be used to attain them.

Texts of presentation - in English

Link to YouTube

Ninth Debate, 11 March 2014 - Ana PALACIO, former Foreign Minister of Spain
"The core EU challenge: democratic deficit or trust deficit?"

Video of the Conference :

Debate with Ana Palacio

Introduction speech: English

Audio recording including discussion


Biography of Ana Palacio - EN, FR

Ana Palacio discusses her two-fold vision of the European identity outlining its external and internal dimensions. As seen from the outside, there is a European brand, synonymous with the European Union and reflecting a strong symbolism of values including human rights, the rule of law, good governance, institutions and accountability, in recent years also defined by the economic crisis. Within Europe, the young educated people often consider themselves European first, before they are nationals of a particular state, but the prevailing attitude seems to project a nostalgic view of the past and a fear of what the future after the crisis holds.

Palacio claims it is neither reasonable nor feasible to return to the old ways in an ever-evolving European context. She deems the widespread populist narrative as dangerous as she expresses her disapproval of those critical of the common European project. (She points out that the Eurozone is still functioning and defying the predictions of its collapse.) She also suggests the democratic deficit is not a key issue as it fails to address the core EU challenges and she strongly believes in the importance of the European Parliament.

According to Palacio, the EU needs to avoid tensions between member states and to present a united front on the most important issues such as security and defence. A revised foreign policy strategy is vital for the EU to make an impact and to reinforce a European identity.

Referring to the Ukrainian crisis, Ana Palacio pointed out that despite a lack of a united EU front there is a strong symbolism of the European brand as shown for example by the Ukrainians on the Maidan.

Texts of presentation - in English

Link to YouTube

Eighth Debate, 13 February 2014 - Tzvetan TODOROV, French essayist, philosopher and historian
"In search of Europe"

Video of the Conference :

Debate with Tzvetan Todorov

Introduction speech: English

Audio recording including discussion

Biography of Tzvetan Todorov - EN, FR

According to Tzvetan Todorov, the growing unhappiness with the European Union (EU) amongst the population should be understood as a response to politicians’ lack of vision for the European project. Interminable debates on bureaucratic rules and regulations, coupled with inadequate responses to the economic and social crises facing Europe’s citizens, leave citizens discouraged.

He remains convinced that the rationale in favour of the EU is still valid and suggests that building a cultural, or even spiritual, identity for Europe may help to overcome many disappointments and strengthen people’s connection with Europe.

Tzvetan Todorov notes the benefits from the richness of European culture, its plurality and diversity of traditions and ways of life, but he also sees difficulties with attempts to define a shared identity. He opts for an identity which refers to the constitutive pluralism of the EU as a basis of unity. This should embrace tolerance, emulation, critical thinking, generalised secularism, "general will" (Rousseau) and "common sense" (Kant). He draws particular attention to the significance and status of diversity as well as common memories and the coexistence of national and regional identities (‘Europe as a form of cohabitation between nations’).

Texts of presentation - in English and in French (original)

Link to YouTube

Seventh Debate, 23 January 2014 - Robert SALAIS, French economist
"European identity: the past waiting for a future"

Video of the Conference :

Debate with Robert Salais

Introduction speech: French

Audio recording: Part 1, Part 2 

Biography of Robert Salais - EN, FR

Robert Salais introduces the debate by referring to two opposing visions for Europe, one, strategic, based on finding common interests between European states and the second, universalist approach, arguing for a European identity which respects the socio-historical diversity of the region and which can serve as a model for other continents.

Robert Salais argues that the current dominant strategic orientation is neoliberalism and this is leading to an identity impasse, creating risks for the future of the European project. He suggests that to overturn this tendency Europe need to return to its original vision, to its universalist approach. For this to work, he outlines some conditions for Europe: the primacy of politics over economics; federalism and democratic deliberation at all levels; priority to fundamental human rights over economic freedoms; reaffirmation of the role of the state in the implementation of collective goals, etc.

What is preventing Europe from becoming a more human and political community?
How can we make Europe more open and democratic at all levels?

Texts of presentation - in English and in French (original)

Link to YouTube

Sixth Debate, 18 November 2013 - Daniel COHN-BENDIT, Publicist and politician, the Greens, MEP
"Quo vadis Europa...?"

Video of the Conference :

 Debate with Daniel Cohn-Bendit

Introduction speech: English, French

Discussion: English, French

Biography of Daniel Cohn-Bendit - EN, FR

In a recent article Daniel Cohn-Bendit argued that “the time is ripe for a transnational, trans-generational, trans-partisan, grass-roots and crowd-funded movement to take European integration to the next level”.

He suggests that Europe has a role to play as one of the global leaders, but to achieve this, Europe needs a paradigm shift based on the abandonment of national sovereignty and a move away from state-nation structures.

Is Europe ready to undertake these kinds of reforms and do European institutions have enough legitimacy to do so?
What are the limits of European integration and what responsibilities would national states have in a transnational Europe? 
Could European identity one day substitute national patriotism?

Texts of presentation - in English and in French (original)

Link to YouTube in English and in French

Fifth Debate, 10 October - Professor David LORDKIPANIDZE, Paleoanthropologist, charting the origins of the first Europeans, "Georgia and the region’s European aspirations : building the future on a vibrant past "

Video of the Conference :

Debate with David Lordkipanidze

Biography of David Lordkipanidze - EN

The remains found in Dmanisi, Georgia represent the oldest evidence of humans discovered outside of Africa, dating back 1.8 million years. This discovery in 1991 rewrites human history and transforms our view of human evolution and our understanding of the first Europeans’ way of life and societal organisation.

Professor Lordkipanidze introduced the fifth Debate with a presentation on Europe’s common heritage. Then, he explored how Europeans had evolved since that time, and shared his reflection on what we could learn from our common past to help us preserve Europe’s unity. He also refered to the history and the future of the Caucasus region and the perspectives for its European aspirations.

The presentation was followed by a discussion with the audience.

Texts of presentation - in English

Interview for Council of Europe TV Journal

Link to YouTube

Fourth Debate, 20 June 2013 - Martti AHTISAARI, President of Finland (1994-2000), 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, ‘Europe is stronger than you think – if we reinvent ourselves’

Video of the Conference :

Debate with President Martti Ahtisaari

Biography of President Martti Ahtisaari - EN

Many say that Europe is having an existential crisis. For sure, the challenges are severe - and they are not only economic, but also deeply political. In times of crisis, we must not only consider the weaknesses of Europe but also highlight those qualities that made it strong. We have to be able to reinvent Europe.

What are the strong attributes of Europe?
How to keep the European dream alive?
Can European politicians act together to build a common future?
What vision for the Europe of tomorrow?

President Martti Ahtisaari introduced the fourth Debate on 20 June, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, with a presentation which was followed by a discussion with the audience.

Texts of presentation - in English

Interview for Council of Europe TV Journal

Podcast on "The principles of Europe's reinvention

Link to YouTube

Third Debate, 28 May 2013 - Victor EROFEEV, Russian writer
‘Russian and European Souls - Can they walk together ?’

Video of the Conference :

 Debate with Victor Erofeev

Biography of Victor Erofeev - EN

Russia lies geographically on two continents: Europe and Asia. Economically, it has important interests with countries on both continents. But, politically, and even more importantly, culturally and emotionally, Russia considers itself as belonging to Europe.

How close are Russia and Europe?
Are they ready to build a common future?
What are the expectations of both sides?
What should be done to strengthen the European future of Russia?

These and other questions were addressed by Russian writer and political commentator Victor Erofeev, author of ‘Encyclopedia of the Russian soul’.

Texts of presentation - in English and in Russian

Interview for Council of Europe TV journal

Link to YouTube

Second Debate, 9 April 2013 - Yuri ANDRUKHOVYCH, Ukrainian novelist and poet
‘Europe: culture at the edge of the world, or who are the losers?’

Video of the Conference :

Debate with Yurij Andrukhovych

Biography of Yurij Andrukhovych - EN

Yurij Andrukhovych, co-author of My Europe, comes from Ukraine, a part of Europe called sometimes MittelEuropa, a country which is rich in multiple nationalities, religions, traditions, cultures and languages.

He spoke about linguistic diversity, in Central Eastern Europe in particular, where the continued existence of minority languages is threatened. For Andrukhovych, losing your language is akin to losing a part of yourself and represents the need to hold on to your native tongue in order to hold on to your identity...

Text of presentation - EN

Interview for Council of Europe website (only in English) - Audio file (http://www.humanrightseurope.org)

Link to YouTube video

Inaugural Debate, 12 March 2013 - Karsten ALNÆS, Norwegian writer and historian
‘Roots of European identity – challenges and threats’

Video of the Conference :

Debate with Karsten Alnaes

Biography of Karsten Alnaes - EN

Karsten Alnaes, author of History of Europe presented the history of Europe, how the concept of Europe evolved. He sees the connection between the concept of identity and the concept of belonging. This community, this sense of identity, this sense of belonging, he argues, is something intrinsic to the human spirit.

For Alnaes, Europe’s identity is something invented. It is a product of the mind, an abstraction. In his view commitment to human rights is the most vital and valuable hallmark of European identity.

Text of presentation - EN

Interview for the Council of Europe website (only in English) - Audio file (http://www.humanrightseurope.org)

Link to Youtube video